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The Lure of the Vampire: Gender, Fiction and Fandom from Bram Stoker to Buffy

Milly Williamson

Paperback 224 pages (April 18, 2005) – Wallflower Press

Appropriately titled, The Lure of the Vampire seeks to address the questions of the continued popularity of the vampire in the modern psyche, particularly those in the fan community who are obsessed with vampire culture. It’s a relevant focus of study, the (al)lure lying in the vampire’s elasticity as a mirror for our own desires and fears. Compared with other super/extra-natural creatures the vampire has two of the most powerful pulls in cultural interest: sex and death. Williamson follows the popularity of the vampire through these two strands – from sexualised Victorian cadaver waxworks to the fear and desire surrounding the infamous exploits of Lord Byron. Although there is an acknowledgement that the sympathetic vampire is a more prevalent model in contemporary fan identification, there is a sense in which, through Byron, the draw of the taboo, the vampire as lover or bohemian outsider is one that has run parallel to the thought of vampires as simply monstrous. Williamson examines the roots of the genre’s masculine fear of female sexuality (particularly in the brutal violation of Lucy’s corpse in Dracula – punishment or group penetration for Lucy’s perceived wantonness) but also acknowledges that the novel, and subsequent works about vampires, falls into the realm of melodrama and to some extent women’s fiction. This is the contradiction inherent in much of vampire fiction – particularly in the reluctant/sympathetic roles increasingly apparent in the work of Anne Rice. Some attention is also given to the vampire/Dracula as foreign rapacious devil or disease (a link most clearly made in Guy Madden’s exemplary Dracula interpretation Pages From a Virgin’s Diary).

As with much contemporary interest in the subject a large emphasis is placed on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer phenomenon, its relationship to its audience and the increasing paradox of the sympathetic vampire. It is noted that the boundaries between the actors and their roles are blurred in published interviews, as is the way the studios use the predominantly intelligent fanbase to encourage analysis of subtext. That Buffy appears so ripe for analysis is seen as partly the intention of the programme’s marketing strategy aimed at the affluent, white, middle class – particularly given its oft espoused leftfield leanings; empowered female and lesbian characters whilst being funded by a distinctly capitalist studio. Overall the first half of the book provides a succinct argument linking many disparate strands of academic research and associating the role of the viewer/fan with his/her relationship to the material. With a little more breathing space to expand on the multitude of issues raised this could have made a superb book in its own right. But Williamson has a wider net to cast – the focus of the second half turns to fandom itself. While there is no overriding glorification of fandom as a whole (indeed there is criticism of its intrinsic conservatism – e.g. fannish rebels being totally square even as they are wallowing in their own perceived hip-ness) the author clearly has some personal affiliation with fan culture but one she admirably keeps, for the most, at arm’s length. On one hand fandom is viewed as a community of likes, on the other there is the documentation of ad hoc fan interviews that appears mean spirited (was it necessary to quote someone who mistakes Nosferatu and Nostradamus – it may well be amusing but it doesn’t quite feel right). More interesting is the analysis of fandom as subsets of communities – the internal factions, the distancing the fan sees from “mundania” (whilst generally being a product of it), the value of cultural commodity and the kudos/elitism of interaction directly with the works’ creator. Most fascinating is the chapter discussing the various relationships in New Orleans based vampire fandom focussed on Anne Rice – the split between official and unofficial fan groups, arguments over money, cynicism at merchandising and the fall-out over the Memnoch Ball, home of many a fan gripe that will be familiar to convention goers and organisers the world over. Later chapters touch on fannish appearance, the dressing up culture and the occasionally murky area of fan fiction.

There is much to Lure of the Vampire that appeals, even if you have only tangential (or should that be fangential) interest. It is a good starting point as an introduction or distillation of academic research on vampires and their relationship to contemporary popular culture. As an examination of fan communities and the relationship between personal and commercial ownership of its subject it provides a valuable insight and is a fascinating read.